Dispatch from IBS 2015: Solutions to common OSHA violations

When Brad Hammock, a lawyer and expert on occupational safety and health hazards, asked how many people had Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections on their work sites in the past five years, roughly half of the hands in a ballroom of the Las Vegas Convention Center went up.

It's no secret in the construction industry that OSHA enforcement in recent years is at historic levels. "This is the most aggressive we’ve seen OSHA in the past 20 years," Hammock said.

While workplace safety should always be number one, keeping up with all of the fine print in different OSHA regulations can be daunting. So, Hammock devised a list of 10 ways you can make sure to avoid an OSHA violation yourself.

Number 10: Documentation

Make sure you have full records of all of your programs. To that point: Even if OSHA says that something technically doesn't need to be put in writing, put it in writing anyway.

And for those professionals who use subcontractors for projects: OSHA expects your subcontractors to also be OSHA compliant, so make sure they are briefed as well.

Number 9: OSHA focus areas

OSHA lets you know different areas of workplace safe they’re focusing on, so it’s important to understand where those areas of interest line up with your overall operations. This means designating someone who will periodically check OSHA’s website, look for specific focus areas, and report back.

Number 8: The Top 10 list

At the end of every year, OSHA always releases a list of its most violated safety standardsand they rarely change year after year.

"If you get cited on one of those things, it’s your own fault at this point. It's any good construction executive's job to make sure you are airtight on those standards," Hammock said.

Number 7: Injury reporting

Safety incentive programs are just a fact of life in many construction companies. However, OSHA doesn’t like them and continues to take the stance that they discourage injury and illness reporting. So if you have an injury incentive program, make sure it doesn’t discourage employees from reporting injuries, and that your employees also feel that way. And, if you are subjected to an OSHA inspection, be prepared to explain why it doesn’t.

Number 6: Record keeping

Records are the first thing an OSHA inspector will ask for when they go to a job site, and you typically have four hours to comply, Hammock said. 

"Make sure they look flawless. No coffee stains. And ensure they are accurate, neat, and tight. Your recordkeeping is the first glimpse into your safety culture," he said.

Most importantly, Hammock said, train your record keepers on how to accurately record injuries and illnesses on the job.

Number 5: Preparation

You need to be aware of what OSHA is and isn’t allowed to do on site, and have at least one trained person on each job site who knows how to interact with an OSHA inspector. Even if someone is a good leader, it doesn't mean they'll be good at talking with a government official.

Number 4: Employee Misconduct

Telling an inspector that an employee just made a one-time mistake typically won't cut it. An official disciplinary system needs to be in place. Typically, OSHA will want proof you’ve used it in the past, so it's even better if you have actually utilized it.

Number 3: Hazard identification

If injuries are occurring on your site, look at where they happen. Ask yourself if there are trends there, and how you can respond to them.

Number 2: Follow through

Prioritize issues and have a system in place for when they will be executed.

"Assign responsibility, set deadlines, and only push back for good cause," Hammock said.

Number 1: Training

It's just a fact: On the job training is not enough for OSHA. You will need to have documentation of more formal training if you have an inspection. Set up a system of periodic refresher training, even if it's not specifically required by OSHA.

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